Do you have a box of photos waiting to be sorted and scanned? Maybe others that need to be placed into photo albums? Me too. I’ve worked at this before, and thinned down the pile substantially, but there are still photos that don’t really fit into the categories I was using–family and close friends.
When I was growing up we not only got individual school photos taken of each of us each year throughout my elementary school days, but our entire class was also captured for posterity, along with our teacher. I’m now in touch through Facebook with a very few of the classmates featured in these photos, but otherwise the friendships and experiences of those years spent together in elementary school classrooms are mostly forgotten.
I mentioned these photos to a classmate, and he answered that he’d like to see them. That was the nudge I needed. The simple act of handling the photos, scanning, then trimming the images, then looking more closely at these pictures from the 1960s, brought memories flooding back.
In first grade there was the sweet boy who wished I’d be his girlfriend. He sat with me in our “bluebirds” reading circle. Each group received a different color label, presumably top disguise which group had more advanced reading skills. We always knew who was smarter, anyway. As we pulled our chairs into a circle to take turns reading aloud, Chipper, my hopeful beau, always propped his leg onto the top of his knee, brushing dirt onto my dress with his dusty sneaker. An odd method of flirting, but at age six, you have to start somewhere. I spent as much time shoving his foot away from me as I spent listening to the others read.
I was one of the “good girls,” rarely if ever in trouble, so it’s probably little surprise that I was always seated in the middle, or way in the back of the class in these photos. I was quite fond of each of my teachers in these early years. We arrived one day to find a substitute for our class when I was in 2nd grade, and I was not alone in feeling outraged that this woman expected us to write our numbers all the way to 200. Um, we had NOT learned this yet, and her assignment was beyond unfair. We’d learned only to write to 100! I feel sure we (probably I) set her straight, but memories of the rest of that day have disappeared along with most of the other rote lessons we labored through as we were becoming educated.
We had teachers who brought music into our classes, some more gifted than others. As first graders, there was Mrs. Veevers, gray-haired, short, with wore multiple bracelets on each arm. She flailed away on her out-of-tune auto harp as we sang, her bracelets adding to the cacophony. In 4th grade I moved from our familiar neighborhood school to an area magnet school, Nova elementary. The transition was rocky, and I longed for my safe neighborhood school. But in 5th grade I fell in love with our music teacher, who couldn’t have been more different than Mrs. Veevers. Del Baroni sailed into our classroom each week with his piano, pounding out a jazz tune as he arrived, bringing joy and great music with him. He was a gifted musician, performed at local clubs on the weekend, and called me Maggie. No one ever called me Maggie, (I went by Margi at the time) but Mr. Baroni could have called me anything he wanted.
Our 5th grade classroom teacher attempted to share his love for the book, “The Secret Garden” by regularly reading portions of it aloud to us near the end of the day, but we never managed to finish it. Years later I revisited the story to learn what happened to Colin and the other characters in the classic tale. When Mr. Boyle read to us, the story, which took place in England, was puzzling to me, since I knew only a world of tropical orchids, greenery, hurricanes, and alligators. I heard the words “green spikes piercing the bare earth in springtime,” and wondered what this could possibly mean–I had never seen, or heard of daffodil bulbs and was baffled at the story’s allusions to signs of spring.
The first “easy to read” books we were given in school were clearly created with an eye for the national public school market. For most children around the country, the stories included in the simple books detailed common experiences. But when I read of children making snowmen and snow angels, then turning snow into maple candy, I felt cheated. Why did other children get to have snow, when it never, ever snowed where we lived?
Clearly scarred by this snow-deprivation, I headed north as soon as I could, and deliberately chose to attend a college in New England, to be sure I would not miss out on this magical mystery I’d heard about so many, many years ago as I learned to read. Not satisfied with this taste of northerness while I was in college, I chose to stay, and raised my family here. As I write, my view out the window is of a snow-filled yard, and trees that were recently coated with white stuff. I have never considered returning to S. Florida, and yet, I’m grateful for life lessons and perspectives gained in growing up in the tropics. It’s not an experience everyone has, but is something I will always have in common with those who were children in my classrooms back in the 1960s.
Marjorie Turner Hollman
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and has completed two guides to Easy Walking trails in Massachusetts, “Easy Walks in Massachusetts 2nd edition,” and “More Easy Walks in Massachusetts.” A native Floridian, she came north for college and snow! On the board of directors of the Association of Personal Historians, she is a Certified Legacy Planner with LegacyStories.org, and is the producer of numerous veterans interviews for the Bellingham/Mendon Veteran’s History Project. http://www.marjorieturner.com